I first heard about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS by Meg Medina from the “YA Reads for Teachers (And Any Other Adults!)” Group on Goodreads. As soon as I saw the title, I was intrigued…but I also knew that this title would also be a problem. In a Goodreads chat, the author said this was not the original title but that she is at peace with the change. Group members wrote in to say that they loved the book and would do all they could to support and promote it but they knew that three-letter word at the end would likely mean their school districts and libraries would not accept the book.
In this book, a good student’s grades and sense of self go on a downward spiral after she becomes the target of a vicious girl and her followers at her new school. Piedad “Piddy” Sanchez, who never would have imagined skipping school or blowing off assignments, does just that because the fear of Yaqui Delgado takes over her life.
Ironically, Piddy’s mother moves them out of their run-down apartment to give her daughter a better chance in life. When the book begins, Piddy is not fully aware of how she is blossoming into womanhood. Some girls get a reality check about his when they run into some less than gentlemanly boys or men. For Piddy, this reality check comes from Yaqui Delgado who goes after her with escalating violence because she believes Piddy has tried to steal her boyfriend.
The reader feels the terror along with Piddy as it becomes clear that Yaqui is not letting up. Some of the best books I’ve read introduce a situation or plot element at one point and when the story is woven skillfully, you (and the protagonist) forget about it until later when it is useful either to disappoint or delight and that happens in this book.
Piddy does not escape Yaqui’s wrath in in 21st century fashion, Yaqui makes sure that everyone knows. What happens is unfortunate but also very true to life.
However, Piddy is not and was never alone. Her hardworking and somewhat heartbroken single mother means well but cannot let herself relax. Lila, her mother’s best friend, serves as a fun-loving foil and different example of womanhood. Piddy’s own best friend has just moved at the start of the book. She functions as a kind of double of Piddy in that her family also moved for a better life…except that the move seems to have worked. Mitzi and Piddy drift apart because they no longer live in the same neighborhood and they seem to be on different paths. When Piddy looks beat up it is because has really suffered violence; when Mitzi looks beat up her injuries come from playing sports at her private school.
At her new school, Piddy strikes up a friendship of convenience with Darlene. Neither of them is especially popular—Piddy because she’s new and Darlene because she’s uptight—and this is really the only thing that brings them together. Darlene is a student volunteer in the office and she does try to help when Piddy starts to skip school to avoid a confrontation but makes it clear she will only go so far.
Piddy also has some unlikely male friends: a boy she grew up with from the old neighborhood with family drama of his own and a nerdy kid at her new school. Both have more depth than it seems they would on the surface.
In addition to trouble at school, Piddy is troubled because her father is gone. She is growing up but her mother doesn’t want to talk about the man who remains a mystery to Piddy. She feels odd because she does not seem to fit other people’s expectations of how a Latina should look and behave and she can only imagine what her father might be like. Other women from her old neighborhood clue her in to what made her father leave and when she confronts her mother with this gossip, her mother opens up.
This is a great book and I hope the title doesn’t get in the way because it is well written and I think a lot of kids would be able to see themselves in this book.